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Wednesday, October 5th, 2022

How To Make Modeling Clay Soft Again [All You Need To Know]

How To Make Modeling Clay Soft Again

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Nothing takes the wind out of your creative sails like finding that your sculpting clay has hardened to unusability. But solutions like clay softeners can help the best clay for sculpting become limber and ready to use again. 

Besides, there are many other simple ways to make your hard clay soft again, such as using plasticizers and fresh clay. Even if it has become rock-solid, the clay can be rejuvenated for use again. The point of no return with clay is quite far, and it can be revived to pristine condition in most cases. So, dive in to know about them! 

Squish Test To Gauge The Stiffness Of The Clay

Before anything else, it’s important to check the stiffness of the clay so that you can employ the right technique to soften it. And here’s an easy way to do that.

Squeeze your polymer clay between your palms to check if it’s still somewhat squishable. The clay can still be restored if edges can be worked with. Being still a ways away from the point of no return, you can try a few things to revive it to its former glory using some of the methods mentioned below. Just ensure that the method you use is compatible with the material your clay is made of.

But if the clay feels as stiff as a brick, the chances of revival are slimmer. Nevertheless, you can still try to work with it.

How To Soften Modeling Clay?

How To Soften Modeling Clay

Clay softeners are perhaps the easiest and most accessible option to bring your polymer clay back to a perfect working condition. But it is far from being the only way to restore the softness of polymer clay. 

In the following sections, you’ll find several ways to make your modeling clay usable again.

1. Using Clay Softeners

Clay softeners come in both solid and liquid varieties and should be added to the clay once it has been warmed a little.

Add a few drops of liquid clay softener (like the Sculpey clay softener)  or a small piece of solid clay softener to your warm clay: one part softener to five parts of clay. Knead until your polymer clay has reached the desired consistency.

Something to remember while using a clay softener is that it dilutes the color of the clay it is applied to. If you wish to retain the color of the clay, limit the amount of softeners added. Alternatively, you can mix in colors meant for clay to have it retain its vibrance.

2. Using A Rubber Mallet

If the clay you’re working with is not rock-hard, you can use a hammer to smash it until it starts to move again. Throw your clay in a zip-lock plastic bag and put in a little bit of elbow grease. You can also add a small amount of fresh clay to make it work.

Remember that your clay will break into pieces if it is too hard. So, warming it up before using a mallet is preferable, as it reduces the chances of the clay being brittle.

3. Using A Food Processor

Chop up your hard polymer clay into small bits, chuck it into a food processor, add a softening agent (like petroleum jelly) and blend away. The blades of your food processor will work the softening agent into the clay, softening it and making the pieces usable again. Use the blender in short bursts to effectively have the softening agent do all the magic.

Take the pieces out of your food processor and knead them together. The clay should be usable again.

4. Mixing With Fresh Clay

You can also mix fresh, soft polymer clay with hard clay. Like softening agents, these can cause the color of your clay to fade. Hence, try to ensure that the fresh clay is of the same color as the hardened one.

5. Using Heat

You can simply use your body heat, which is surprisingly effective in softening modeling clay.  But this will only work if the clay isn’t too hard. 

You can also use a hot water bottle for this purpose. However, ensure that the clay doesn’t become too hot, or it will harden even further.

Once warmed up, knead the clay with your hands until it is of the desired consistency again.

6. Using A Conditioning Machine

You can use a conditioning machine if the clay is slightly hard. A conditioning machine compresses the clay to make it limber, smoother, and workable again. Pasta machines will work just as well, as they flatten the clay and release the air trapped in it. You can use the pasta machine repeatedly to create layers of clay of your desired thickness, which is ideal for making handcrafted materials.

On the other hand, moderately hard polymer clay can be softened by working it well enough.

Why Does Modeling Clay Become Hard?

Many factors contribute to modeling clay hardening. For instance, polymer clay contains plasticizers that make it limber. Over time, it loses these substances, causing them to become Other reasons for old polymer clay becoming hard is being left out in the heat for too long and aging. If stored in a warm place, the clay bakes and may not be salvageable anymore.

Drying up is also a common reason for hard clay. If stored long enough, the clay will eventually harden and need restoration.

The Troubles Of Working With Hard Clay

Once hardened, clay will be tough to work with, as it becomes brittle and begins to affect the overall quality of the project. Even if you manage to sculpt something, there will be cracks and deformities on the surface of the sculpture once it’s baked.

This will, in turn, affect its durability, but that is not the only problem. Firstly, you’ll need more effort to model and condition the clay, which will cause undue hand fatigue or strain. The clay won’t bend and shift quickly, no matter how much effort you put in.

The Different Kinds Of Modeling Clay

Hands of young black man in apron flattening piece of clay with rolling pin on board while sitting by table with supplies for handwork. The Different Kinds Of Modeling Clay.

Clay can be broadly classified into four categories: polymer clay, air dry clay, natural clay, and oil-based clay. When it comes to modeling vs polymer clay for sculpting projects, the former, along with air dry clay are the most common kinds of clay. Natural clay is used to make ceramic products, while oil-based clay is favored for its malleability.

Each of these clays behave differently when dried and require various methods for revival once hardened. Oil-based clays react to mineral oils the best when softening, while air dry and polymer clays can be made limber with softening agents.

Air Drying Clay Vs Polymer Clay

When it comes to air drying clay vs polymer clay, there are a few key differences you may want to be aware of. Polymer clay is generally more favorable to work with since it won’t dry as quickly, nor will it become brittle upon drying. Air dry clay is a mixture of glue and clay that air dries, while polymer clay needs to be baked due to its plastic base.

As far as the revival process is concerned, air dry clay can often be restored with water, while polymer clay must have its plasticizers replenished for it to become limber again. The degree to which either can be restored is different, and each method has a unique effect on the type of clay.

How To Soften Polymer Clay That Has Aged?

Polymer clay can last a long while, so clay that has aged enough to be rock-solid is something of a rarity. Nevertheless, it can be restored to a usable condition fairly easily with the use of plasticizers.

Using Plasticizers

Polymer clay contains plasticizers that keep it soft. And over time, the clay will lose enough of their plasticizers to make it rock-solid. Hence, adding them back to it will make your polymer clay workable again. In this regard, mineral oils and baby oils are some of the more common plasticizers that you can find on the market.

Kneading some mineral oil or baby oil into your hardened clay will gradually soften it up.  However, if you mix too much of these oils into the polymer clay, you’ll end up with a blob that cannot be sculpted with.

Hardened Natural Clay

Unlike polymer clay, natural earth clay can be restored relatively easily. It will take a lot of time to fully revive, but the result is well worth the effort.

Reviving Natural Clay

With this method, you will be able to reuse your hardened earth clay within a day or two. For this, you’ll need a bag of clay, a large bucket, mortar and pestle or hammer, water and a container to store the clay slurry in.

Break the stiff clay into small pieces and grind it down using mortar and pestle. Mix the powdered clay in water and make a slurry out of it. Ensure the sludge is not too diluted, as it can become difficult to manage afterwards. Leave it out to dry until the clay has regained its malleability.

Stiffening Polymer Clay

Working with polymer clay that is too soft can be a mess. Likewise, it can be difficult to shape if it is too sticky or slimy. This happens if there is an abundance of moisture in the environment or if the weather is too warm.

Since polymer clay consists of plastic, warming it up softens it considerably. Hence, the first solution to making it stiff again is to cool it down by putting it in the refrigerator for some time. Alternatively, let the clay sit in a cool room. If it does not make the clay workable again, you can move on to a different solution.

Another option you could try is to mix fresh polymer clay in the hardened batch. This will even out the excess moisture, reducing the sliminess to a considerable degree. Make sure to use an ample amount of fresh polymer clay; otherwise, the stickiness will linger in the mixed clay.

The last resort would be to squeeze the excess moisture out of your polymer clay. To do so, flatten the clay and sandwich it between two sheets of paper. Place a heavy object on top and leave it for a few hours. The paper should absorb the surplus fluids from your clay, making it stiff enough to be worked with again. 

However, keep in mind that removing too much moisture from your clay can make it brittle and unfit for use. It would be advisable to be careful while using this method.

How To Make Modeling Clay Soft Again Frequently Asked Questions ?

Can clay be revived if it has hardened completely?

If you’re working with polymer clay, you can try using solid and liquid clay softeners or plasticizers to restore it. To restore air drying clay, you may use water and heat to revive it.

Though it takes a long time, clay can harden to the point of no-return. Hence, we’d suggest keeping your expectations tempered when working with old clay.

Can a microwave be used to restore dry clay?

Yes, a microwave oven can be used to heat up hard polymer clay. Use the oven in short 10-second bursts until the clay can be kneaded with your hands. Do so until you get the desired consistency.

Since you’ll be essentially heating up plastic when heating the clay, let fresh air into your microwave afterwards. This will help remove the harmful chemicals from the oven.

Can you use lotion as a softening agent?

You can use lotions to help knead the clay, but they don’t generally contain plasticizing oils, which is why they won’t do much to soften the clay. It would be better to use mineral or baby oil instead.

How effective of a clay softener is olive oil?

Olive oil, when used in moderation, can be pretty effective. A few drops of olive oil will be enough to make the clay malleable. Knead it in properly and it should be good to go.

How To Make Modeling Clay Soft Again Conclusion

How To Make Modeling Clay Soft Again Conclusion

No matter the kind of clay you use, the process of restoration is nearly always universal. It all comes down to the composition of the clay, which is what determines how one can make it usable again.

For amateurs and professionals, polymer clay is an ideal clay for sculpting and artifact creation. It lasts for a long time and can be worked with even after it has aged a bit. Owing to its contents, the clay can be restored to its former glory with no troubles.

This guide has listed a few of the ways to restore your clay to working condition again. You can experiment with the methods detailed here and see what works the best for your needs. 

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson is the heart of the team, senior editor and our Head of Product Reviews which means she sets the testing parameters of each group review ensuring that tests resemble everyday use.

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